To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: A review

To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the 1930s in Macomb, Alabama, a fictional Southern state of the US. In the 1930s, racial discrimination was normal, and commonly, openly accepted. It was at such a time that Harper Lee, through her book ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, stood up against racism in the name of morality and righteousness. She created, in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, a courageous white liberal, Atticus Finch, and through him, she made a confounding point of the dignity in trying to do the right thing even when the level is loaded against you.

Harper Lee arouses through her amazing story-telling abilities, narrates the story through a girl with the marvelously non-girly name of Scout. This little girl and her elder brother, Jam, are growing up in the courtyards of small-town of Alabama where, Atticus Finch, the children’s father and their idol, is a well-respected lawyer. A local court assigns Atticus to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, against a rape charge brought by a poor, white girl, Magellan.

During the hearing, it becomes clear that Tom is innocent as he is crippled in the left arm, and is thus physically unable of committing the crime. Atticus stands up against an entire town to fight for justice. He does a splendid job of defending Tom in-front of a jury which is biased against Tom simply because he was a man of colour.

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ exposes, in a interestingly simple, beautiful form the foolishness and cruelty of racism.

To Kill a Mockingbird’ is narrated in first-person by Scout, a child of 8-years. It is divided into two parts. Part one is full of stories of the adventures and antics of Jem and Scout, the legends spread in town, idiosyncratic neighbors and relatives, and of childish deeds.

Part two takes on what ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is actually about – ethnic prejudice. Harper Lee has beautifully explained an important issue through the eyes of an innocent child, so it does not, at any point, take on a preaching/lecturing tone. This, without a doubt, is one of her most fascinating achievements. The book has a beautiful drift, and Lee has shaped some of the most outstanding characters in literature.

One can only admire the novel for its clear-eyed portrayal of American tribalism in its three major appearances: race, class and region. Few contemporary literary American novels have such an arc and less have the confidence to take on social issues in the way Lee does. Ample literary writing today about racism is covered in satire that it becomes talkative. Lee refuses to skin behind aesthetics. Her writing is so beautiful, so stable and even and crystalline, that she might have avoided opposing these tribalism head-on, but she doesn’t. Nor does she create saintly characters – although Atticus Finch comes close.

While racism might be American’s weightiest sin – and it surely is depicted as such in this novel – class discrimination comes a close second. Macomb does not seem to have middle-class black people, or if it does Scout does not meets them, but the class differences in her white world are obvious. The Wells are dreadful because they are racist but almost as much because they are “garbage”. They sign respite orders and never cleanse, and somehow serve as a form of self-praising entertainment for the better-placed whites. The white woman who blames a black man of raping her is so unused to being spoken to politely that she thinks she is being teased. Lower-class children are clearly marked and the other children know them.

Upper-class people are pampered: Mr. Delphos Raymond is a well-off white man who prefers the company of black people. He is not detested; however, as a lower-class white person would be, because he is shielded by his wealth and inheritance.

It may not be stated very often, but the north appears large in the mind of Lee’s southerners, as a place of superior people who think they know better than the southerners, a place where a white man refers his mixed race children because they might be better treated there, and a place generally and broadly disliked for winning the civil war.

In short, ‘To kill a Mockingbird’ is an ironic, emotional, and fascinating novel. It shows the elementary, vital lesson – to be decent and moral, and to always, do the right thing. It is one of those standards – artful, fascinating and so beautiful. Atticus Finch is, quite remembered, in one of the passages, Atticus gives his children air rifles, and tells them “I’d rather you shot at box in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”, because, “….mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy”.

Tom Robinson is the acquitted Mockingbird of the title – he has done no damage to the society, and yet, in the end, he had to die as a cruel, disgraceful death. The peak of the hearing is one of the most eye-catching scenes created in literature.

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